“The playoffs start now for us. It’s do-or-die against Cincinnati, a must win.”—Chris Canty Wednesday night on NFL Network (courtesy of Mark Viviano)
Those are my thoughts exactly, Chris.
I’ve been telling people this week I’m done stressing out about Ravens games. I want to sit back and see how they react to the hole they’ve dug for themselves.
Though looking back on a team’s performance a week ago helps when projecting how they’ll fare in the coming game, that process has become almost exhaustive. The Ravens are simply not putting good performances on tape and are getting beaten in areas (running, run blocking, turnover margin) in which they used to excel.
Speaking of turnover margin, the Ravens currently rank 24th in the league (-3). That’s their worst mark since 2007, when they finished the year with a -17 turnover margin.
Another reason the Ravens are struggling so much can be pinpointed to the most basic of reasons – they aren’t scoring! Right now their scoring offense is 21st in the NFL. If that doesn’t change, it would be their worst point output since 2007, when they went 5-11 (the second worst record in team history).
2007 was also the last year the Ravens lost to the Browns, the last time they lost after their bye week and the last year of Brian Billick’s tenure in Baltimore.
Let me stop you right there. I am in no way suggesting or hinting that John Harbaugh should lose his job. Not one bit. I point out those pieces of history to illustrate how bad things have been going this season.
This Sunday is the official beginning of the second half of the Ravens’ season and their last chance to start making a real run at the playoffs. In the 11-year history of the AFC North, every division winner has won at least 10 games. The most the Ravens can win this season is 11.
Here’s five ways how they can win game number four on Sunday.
1. Score first
We know the Ravens aren’t playing well on offense. You can pick out good plays here and there, but in reality, their offense has been holding the team back.
A way to jump start their second half would be to come out of the gates firing and be the first team to score on Sunday.
Through their first eight games, the Ravens have been outscored 32-16 in the first quarter, and have been shutout four times. At no level of football is that a recipe for success.
2. Run for 150-plus yards
The 49ers lead the league in rushing, gaining an average of 153 yards per game. The Ravens don’t need to average that much each game, but when you can reach that mark as a team you’re going to be successful.
Baltimore’s highest rushing output this year has been 133 yards at Miami, a game they ended up winning. But on average, the Ravens rush for 71.6 yards per game (29th in the league).
Don’t expect to win any game, much less make the playoffs with that kind of rushing offense.
3. Pick up Bengals blitzes
All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins (knee) won’t play and linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee) and defensive tackle Devon Still (elbow) didn’t practice Thursday.
Even without Atkins, this Cincinnati front is one of the best (if not the best) units the Baltimore offense will see all year. The Bengals defense is good but it’s far from unstoppable. The question is: How will the Ravens’ offensive line respond?
4. Stifle Green
A.J. Green is a beast. He’s ranks second in the league in receptions (57), first in yards (862) and has scored five touchdowns this season.
Interestingly enough, in three career games against Baltimore Green has only nine receptions for 122 yards. Forty-one yards per game is sub-par for an average receiver, much less one the caliber of Green.
I’m tempted to say this year is different, but the Ravens have basically had the same group of cornerbacks that they had since they first started playing against Green.
I’ll say this: if the Ravens can play Green like they’ve played him in the past, the Bengals offense will be in big trouble.
5. Get crowd involved early and often
This one is simple. Don’t hide from the fact that this is basically a must-win game. Ratchet up the intensity from the first snap until the last. Remind the Bengals how difficult playing at M&T Bank Stadium can be for the visiting team.